WASHINGTON — Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller denied operating a "witch hunt" against President Donald Trump, affirmed that a president can be charged with obstruction after leaving office and said Russia is interfering with elections "as we sit here."
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It was part of several hours of questions from Congressional committees about Mueller's almost two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Meanwhile, President Trump tweeted several times about Mueller's testimony, including one that called the episode "an embarrassment to our country."
It was a rare public appearance for Mueller as he took questions in two sessions of Congress.
Democrats used the day to show why they say Trump and members of his team obstructed justice by trying to shut down the entire investigation. They also argued that Trump is trying to fly above the law.
Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, asked Mueller, "Why did the president want you fired?" Muller responded that he couldn't answer that question.
In response to questions by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Mueller said his special counsel's investigation didn't find sufficient evidence to establish that there was a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, though investigators also didn't totally clear Trump of trying to obstruct the probe.
Trump was weighing in on Twitter hours before testimony was set to begin.
It was NEVER agreed that Robert Mueller could use one of his many Democrat Never Trumper lawyers to sit next to him and help him with his answers. This was specifically NOT agreed to, and I would NEVER have agreed to it. The Greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. history, by far!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2019
Mueller's testimony about a past president's obstruction of justice charge came during in an exchange with Republican Rep. Ken Buck.
"Could you charge the president with a crime after he left office?" Buck asked Mueller.
"Yes," he replied.
"You believe that he committed — you could charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?"
"Yes," Mueller said.
Republicans took issue with Muller again saying his report does not fully exonerate the President.
"Your statement about exoneration is misleading and meaningless. It colors this investigation,” said Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio.
Republicans used their own line of questioning to discredit the report and to defend the president.
"Here’s the good news,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, also of Ohio. “The president was falsely accused of conspiracy."
Mueller gave no new insight, referring often back to the report for his responses.
One Trump campaign tweet called the hearings "a disaster for Democrats".
And in emails to supporters, the campaign is using Wednesday’s hearings as an opportunity to raise money for the 2020 race.
"It won't reshape my dynamic. I've heard all I need to hear from Mueller. I've read his report, I accept the findings," Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday. "I don't think it's going to change public opinion."
“Most of the American people have not read it, 440 pages. Huge report. What’s going to happen is Robert Mueller is going to be saying the words of the report live on national television,” said Guy Smith, a former Clinton defense team attorney.
“No one has heard him do that before. It cannot be distorted.”
Demings thinks Mueller’s testimony could have the power to move the needle with the American people.
“You may not have read the book, but you’ll certainly watch the movie,” Demings said.